5 Things That Make Your Book Look Unprofessional

In self-publishing, you must wear many hats. So many, in fact, that you start looking like someone who’s selling hats. (Reminds me of the book Caps for Saleanyone else read that as a kid?) Not only are you a writer, but you must also become an editor, a marketer, a publisher…

It’s no wonder that self-published books get such a negative reputation (though luckily, that’s starting to fade a bit). Most people simply aren’t equipped to be all of these things at once. I can’t understand marketing to save my life! But what I do know a lot about is how a book should look, even apart from the story itself. And after all of the books I’ve edited and worked on, this is the unfortunate truth:

The biggest problems I see in self-published books are small details.

This is so unfortunate to me because it brings an otherwise stellar book down several notches. No one wants to read a book riddled with simple editing and formatting mistakes, no matter how great the concept may be.

Now, this post isn’t the same as the one I made recently about editing mistakes. This is an overall view of mistakes/stylistic choices that I often see that make a book look unprofessional – meaning you’ll be giving readers the impression that you don’t totally know what you’re doing.

So if you want to impress your readers and truly let your book shine, take these things to heart!

1. Don’t Put Words in All Caps for Emphasis

I will admit this is a pet peeve of mine, but I’ve heard other editors talk about it, too. I’m not sure when or why people started thinking that this was an okay thing to do, but here we are! This practice is acceptable in children’s books and some non-fiction, but anywhere else, it’s definitely frowned upon. Still, I see authors make this stylistic choice all the time.

Example: “You ruined my LIFE!” Jack screamed. (It made me cringe just to write that.)

As you can see, I put “life” in all caps to give emphasis to the word. However, an easy and much more professional replacement is putting the word in italics: “You ruined my life!” Jack screamed.

You get the same exact impression from the text, but italics look neater and give a better impression overall (though they should still be used sparingly – you don’t want to hold the reader’s hand and tell them exactly how to imagine every single line of dialogue). Don’t believe me? Look through some of the traditionally published fiction books on your shelf. I guarantee you’ll only find one instance of this, maybe.

2. Beware of Tense Changes

This is a more recent thing, but with present tense becoming more popular nowadays, I often see authors accidentally slip from present to past tense or vice versa. Sometimes it’s to a small degree (one or two accidental verb tense changes), but other times it’s a consistent thing throughout the entire book where every sentence is changing back and forth. Talk about whiplash!

This just makes a book confusing and difficult to read. Be mindful of whether you’re writing in past or present tense. If you need to, do an entire read-through of your book just dedicated to ensuring one tense is consistent throughout.

3. Have Good Cover Art

Cover art is so important because whether we like it or not, people do judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, I see a lot of self-published book covers that are severely lacking and they give me a negative impression of the book before even reading it.

Yes, cover artists are expensive, but in many cases you don’t need to go that far. Do what I did for The Drabbles of a Dreamer and Colours and grab an unlicensed stock photo, touch it up on the photo editor of your choice, slap the text on, and there you go! I’m not a graphic designer, but I managed to make two nice book covers using this method.

Make sure your cover art is high quality. Give your readers a good impression from the start.

4. Put Effort Into Formatting

Formatting may not seem that important – it’s the words on the page that matter, right? But if your formatting is wonky, readers will notice, and they won’t like it. Plus, it’s really not that hard to make sure it’s right!

Keep your margins uniform. Make sure your indents are consistent. Keep spacing even throughout. Your book should physically look professional.

5. Edit Well

This is where that post about editing errors comes in handy. I can’t tell you how many times I see these minuscule editing errors crop up again and again in the same book. Sometimes it’s misspellings, other times it’s comma misuse, and the list goes on. The problem is that most of the time, these errors are recurring, not just a one-time thing. Professional books may have one or two very minor errors, but that’s about it.

Take your time editing or hire a good editor. You’ll thank yourself later.

These five things are just small steps you can take to make your book better, but the improvements they bring will make your book launch from “okay” to “great!”

Happy writing!

-E.J.


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Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

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4 thoughts on “5 Things That Make Your Book Look Unprofessional

  1. I too am not a big fan of caps in text as it jumps rather rudely off the page. If the writing alone is not selling the emphasis, I accept italics to make a point. Also love your thoughts on good cover art and formatting! A book should look good. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha the caps thing gets me too. The only person that gets a pass for doing that is Terry Pratchett for his character Death. But when people use it unironically, it really does feel weird. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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